Defense and physicality key in UMass’ win against Denver

The Minutemen eliminate scoring chances on Saturday

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Kira Johnson/Daily Collegian (2022)

By Kayla Gregoire, Assistant Sports Editor

The Massachusetts hockey team needed defense and physicality heading into its second game of the series against Denver to keep shots off of goaltender Luke Pavicich. The Minutemen (2-0-1) knew that the Pioneers would come out with constant pressure against them after losing on Friday night.

Throughout the lineup, both offense and defense were using physicality to eliminate chances in the neutral zone. Taylor Makar was using size to keep the Pioneers (2-2) off the puck. Makar grabbed a clean hit against a Denver player, stopping him from entering UMass’ defensive zone.

The second line for the Minutemen constantly used physicality in the game. The line consists of Matt Koopman, Eric Faith and Jerry Harding. Harding had a momentum changing hit, laying out a Denver player on the ice. That hit in the first period was not his only big hit of the game, putting hits on Pioneers throughout.

Head coach Greg Carvel wanted Harding to be a scary player on the ice with his size. The senior has been on the second line for the series, a welcomed change after slotting in as an extra skater in his first regular season game.

“[Harding] makes an impact,” Carvel said. “There’s no reason why we shouldn’t get that every game. I’m scared of him, everybody should be. He’s a big strong kid, he skates really well and just plays a simple game and runs into people.”

Koopman at even strength and when down a man had a defensive upside to his game. On the penalty kill in the second period, Koopman constantly was pressuring Denver to not allow passes. The Providence transfer was the main penalty killer in the first shift.

With a new season, typically defensive pairings change from game to game, but Carvel in the Denver series kept the pairings the same. The first defensive paring of Scott Morrow and Elliott McDermott was performing at a high level.

Morrow and McDermott were both using unpredictable moves to throw off the Pioneers. Morrow constantly danced around Denver with the puck on his stick to make them chase him. McDermott, like his teammate, spun around to force players to have to figure out a way around him. Most of the time both McDermott and Morrow found a UMass player to pass to after making the move.

McDermott and Morrow also used communication with their passing to their advantage. Morrow passed the puck to McDermott near the blue line for a hard shot on net in the first. The pairing combined for six shots on goal, with four from Morrow, along with a goal.

With keeping pressure off Pavicich being a large focus, McDermott saved a chance for Denver to get another shot on the goaltender. After a Pioneer took a shot on Pavicich, McDermott kept pressure on the Pioneer, leading to Morrow grabbing the puck.

“It’s awesome,” Pavicich said on the defense keeping pressure off him. “If you need a break once in a while, them blocking shots for you or getting pucks out of the middle for the scrums, it keeps your energy up.”

The second pairing that has Aaron Bohlinger and Ryan Ufko looked like an experienced pairing in the game. Ufko was using more physicality in the game then the sophomore typically uses. On top of physicality, Ufko also was adding hard shots from the blue line. Many of the pucks rebounded, creating chances for other Minutemen to score. Ufko also blocked a shot after Denver pulled its goaltender. The rebound from the block was caught by Cal Kiefiuk for an empty net goal. Bohlinger adds the most experience in the paring, being one of the oldest players on defense.

The third pairing of Linden Alger and Noah Ellis does lack some experience but made an impact in the game. Alger in the series has continually used his size to check Denver players along the boards. The junior in the third checked a Pioneer while they had the puck on their stick, turning the puck over to the Minutemen. Ellis slotted into the lineup for the first time in the series on Friday. On Saturday, the freshmen showed that he is continuing to grow both with and without the puck.

“I thought tonight our [defense] was really good,” Carvel said. “They broke up pucks really well tonight compared to last night.”

Kayla Gregoire can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Kaygregoire.